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The Minnesota Twins Are Getting Help From An Unlikely Source

The Minnesota Twins' first half of the season has been tumultuous. They've endured everything from a 12-game win streak to three losing streaks of five games or more. This up-and-down sentiment has been best exemplified by the team's starting rotation. After finishing sixth in team ERA last season, the Twins find themselves ranked 22nd through 65 games this season.


With the bullpen trio of Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, and Brock Stewart picking right where they left off last year, much of the sharp decline in team ERA falls back on the starting rotation.


The loss of Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray hampered the team's pitching expectations, but such a steep drop-off has come to the surprise of many. A preseason article posted by Bleacher Report ranked the Twins' pitching staff fifth in the entire league, with the expectation that Pablo Lopez would take another leap and cement himself as one of the best arms in the league.

Fast-forward to today, Lopez has regressed significantly since last season's all-star campaign, posting an ERA of 5.45 through 13 starts in 2024.


The return of Chris Paddock has produced underwhelming results as well. The right-hander ballooned his ERA to 5.26 after giving up seven runs to a stacked New York Yankee lineup. The backend of the rotation has not fared much better, with Bailey Ober and Louie Varland both posting career worsts in ERA and WHIP. Varland's struggles cost him a spot on the roster, as he was sent down to triple-A after just four starts.


The Twins Are Trying To Find Stability

In the hope of finding some stability in the final starting rotation spot, the Twins turned to 23-year-old Simeon Woods Richardson. The second-round pick out of the University of Texas appeared in just one game last season, where he gave up five runs in four innings of work.


With expectations relatively low, Woods Richardson surprisingly found immediate success with the club, quickly cementing himself as the team's fifth starter. In his first 10 starts so far, the right-hander owns a 2-1 record with a 2.84 ERA and is showing no signs of slowing down.


Woods Richardson put up his best start to date on Saturday against the Pirates, going 6.1 innings and allowing just one run. His newfound success in the majors boils down to a few different factors. 


Woods Richardson Is The Manifestation Of Modern-Day Baseball Pitching

The days of going seven-plus innings and throwing over 100 pitches are over. In the past 10 seasons, starting pitchers have gone from averaging 96 pitches per start in 2014 to just 86.1 pitches in 2024.


Through 10 starts, Woods Richardson has averaged 83 pitches per start and just a touch over five innings. While he has only been credited with two wins on his official record, the Twins have won seven of the 10 games Richardson has started, which is the most wins among any Twins starter this season.


"He uses all three of his pitches really well, and the stuff is actually good, it's improving. It's not easy to do, and he's giving us winning starts, constantly,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told Bally Sports North after Woods Richardsons' outing against Seattle.


Last season for the St. Paul Saints--the triple-A affiliate of the Twins-- Woods Richardson averaged nearly the same numbers, throwing on average 84 pitches and 5.2 innings per start. So what's changed? According to the Twins skipper, much of his success can be attributed to his pitch location.


"Some guys have the stuff, but they get thrown off and have issues actually getting the ball where it needs to be, he hasn't had those issues to this point, he's pitched well," Baldelli said.

Richardson's three main pitches, a fastball, slider, and changeup, have all been finding the zone. Through his 10 starts, he's in the 83rd percentile in BB% at 5.3%.


With such a low walk percentage, balls inevitability will be squared up. However, Richardson is above the league average in hard hit percentage and exit velocity, meaning the balls that have been put into play aren't being squared up like they are against other big league pitches.


Along with finding the zone, Richardson has found another way to get outs--by increasing his velocity. He's seen an uptick in his fastball this season, as his top speed has jumped nearly three miles per hour from last year, going from 93.8 MPH to topping out at 97.2 MPH last Saturday against the Pirates.


While the increase in speed hasn't quite contributed to more strikeouts for the right-hander, it's directly contributed to more on-the-field success.


Woods Richardson's focus is on improving each and every day, though.


 “I’m just taking it one day at a time, it's really easy to get sidetracked, but at the end of the day, the best players in this game are still working every day, so just putting your head down and trying to be the best version of yourself is what I’m trying to do,” he told media members after a solid outing against the Royals.


It remains to be seen if the 23-year-old can keep up this early-season success, but the efficient outings by a fifth starter have kept the Twins—who currently sit at 34-31—afloat so far through 65 games. Woods Richardson is scheduled to start on Friday against the Oakland Athletics.

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